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Mindful : February 2018
story in us of an occasion when we’ve reframed a particular failure, where we’ve changed our perspective, and have seen how a failure turned out to be the best thing that ever happened.” The secret of good decision-making, accord- ing to Evans, is engaging your whole being in the process, not just your cognitive side. “ People often say, ‘I want to make a really good decision, not an emotional one,’” he said. “But there’s no such thing as an unemotional decision.” The problem, according to neuroscientists, is that the emotional wisdom center of the brain isn’t directly linked to the part of the frontal lobe connected with lang uage. And, because we place such a high value on rationality in our culture, we don’t spend a lot of time developing our discernment of those feelings. “The thing that you think of as yourself,” said Evans, “is heavily shaped by your emotional wisdom. If you can combine your EQ and IQ, you will make better decisions.” This doesn’t happen overnight. One of the best ways to cultivate emotional intelligence and other forms of intuitive knowing is to engage reg ularly in meditation, yoga, art-making, and other practices. And it’s important to make it a reg ular habit, quipped Evans, “not just some- thing you do once, like going to Disneyland.” In his case, he devotes 20 minutes a day to silent meditation, or “centering prayer,” and studies poetry once a week, trying to experience the words kinesthetically. Similarly, Burnett prac- tices mindfulness meditation (using the Head- space app), goes to a figure-drawing class every week, and regularly takes part in a long-standing men’s g roup. Tapping into your imagination also helps. Toward the end of the workshop, Bill and Dave asked us each to select one of our life scenarios and write about what it would be like to live that story. I was surprised by how easily the words flowed, and the same was true for virtually everyone else in the room. That was an exam- ple of “the EQ-IQ combo” in action, said Evans. Because of all the work we’d done earlier in the workshop, he explained, the emotional reality of our story was available to our unconscious mind and our conscious verbal mind was happy to write it down. During the discussion afterward, my table- mate, Diane, had an interesting insight. She said that “putting the narrative out there—even though it didn’t exist—made it feel as if it was really happening.” That was the whole point, said Burnett. “It’s not good enough just to have an idea,” he said. “ You have to put that idea → to do. He cited science fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” The trick is to focus on your interviewee’s personal story rather than hitting him or her up for the job. “Everybody loves to tell their own story,” said Burnett, especially if you don’t pull out your resume in the middle of the conversa- tion. Another proviso: Cast a wide net. It’s better to over-report the story than to try to make important decisions about your future based on skimpy information. Plus, if you engage in enough conversations, one of them might even turn into a job offer. What about procrastination? “The number one thing we see that holds people up is fear,” said Burnett. “But fear is one of the things we know how to master. You take very small steps over and over. That’s what we call ‘failure immunity.’” A case in point is Kathy Davies, the managing director of the Stanford Life Design Lab, whom I inter viewed after the workshop. “ My tendency used to be, ‘I’m going to revamp everything and make a New Year’s resolution for the whole year,’” she said. “The problem is that doesn’t work because you’re intimidated from the start and you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. That’s why I love the idea of micro-changes. When we do product design, we follow people around and see what they do and then design products for them. To give yourself the same kind of scrutiny is a smart thing because it yields interesting information you can use to make small changes. The beauty is, one, you notice things about yourself that you weren’t paying attention to before and, two, the idea of making a small change is very empowering.” This kind of self-exploration is not just a gam- bit; it’s the heart of the process. As Evans and Burnett describe in their book, designing your life involves starting with who you are, having lots of ideas and trying things out, and then making the best choices you can. As you do that, they write, “you grow various aspects of your personality and identity that are nurtured and called upon by those experiences—you become more yourself. In this way you energize a very productive cycle of growth, naturally evolving from being, to doing, to becoming. Then it all repeats as the more-like-you version of you (your new being) takes the next step of doing, and so it goes.” When you approach life this way, they add, “Failure is just the raw material of success. We all screw up; we all have weaknesses; we all have growing pains. And we all have at least one ODYSSEY PLANNING Here’s a way to contemplate how you would “build” your future—like a designer—that helps you be more creative and not get stuck in a rut. Imagine three dream scenarios and draw a time- line on how each of these would play out over the next 5 years: LIFE 1 A continuation of what you’re currently doing LIFE 2 What you’d most likely do if option 1 came to an end LIFE 3 What you would love to do if time and money were no object See Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnet t & Dave Evans (Knopf 2017) To read about another example of how to make creative change in your life, go to mindful.org/ designyourlife 64 mindful February 2018 vision